Ahh, the carefree days of summer! Structure and routines have long been abandoned as you descend into the slippery slope of chaos and anarchy. As the days got longer, so does bedtime; suddenly, it’s 9:30 PM! The summer slide definitely applies not only to reading and math for kids but also family life.
Then something alarming happens that immediately sets off your stress response: back-to-school sales! All you can think is "How can it be that time of year already?!?" as you begin to think of all there is to do!
Take a deep breath, we’ll get through this together. Stores get flack for posting seasonal items so far ahead of time. But instead of that being annoyed, flip the story and thank them for getting you in motion to take action on the next season of life, whether that’s back-to-school, Halloween, or Christmas. Think about it, if you start preparing for any of these holidays when the stores do, you would have plenty of time to get it all done and avoid being stressed out!
Stress has many negative effects on your health and well-being. SoulShine wants to help you destress the back-to-school grind with these 10 tips!
#10: Make time for your last summer fun and adventures
Take a moment to review your summer bucket list or, if you don't have a list, take a quick inventory of all you have done this summer. What's missing? Music in the park? Drive-in movie? Water park? Beach? Baseball game? Rank these items in order of importance, and schedule time to knock as many out as you can! Chances are, some of these items can carry over into the early fall, too!
#9: Break down the “must-do’s” into weekly pieces
Anyone else feel like there is so much to do before going back to school? School supplies, back to school clothes, sports physicals, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, orthodontic appointments, haircuts, eye doctor appointment, enrollment paperwork/sports registration...
Before your stress level gets too high, stop and take a deep breath, then, ask yourself if this really needs to be done before the first day, or would it be nice to be done before the first day. Of course, some of these do need to be done before the first day, but others, like appointments and clothes shopping, can happen a bit later. Break these tasks up into weekly to-do’s. For example, school supplies one week, haircuts the next, setting up appointments the following week. This keeps the list manageable and decreases stress.
Bonus ideas! Online shopping is great for school supply shopping without the crowd, and, some schools have a back-to-school classroom supply kit you can buy, which might be worth it!
#8: Design a homework contract
Discuss a plan for tackling homework expectations with your child before school starts. Having your child be part of the decision-making process will increase the likelihood that they will follow through with the contract. Decide on when homework will be done (e.g., immediately after school, after snack, before dinner, or right after dinner). You may also want to include what they can do before or after homework is done. An example contract could be that they can have a snack and outside/non-electronic free time after school, homework starts when dinner is being prepped and continues after dinner until finished, then, television/electronics/free time after homework and any expected chores are complete. You might consider making a visual document outlining the expectations so they are clear for all.
#7: Discuss chore/responsibilities list
You might notice a trend here: open communication between you and your child/children regarding expectations is crucial to getting the school year off to a great start. Discuss and outline expectations for chores, including frequency and expectations for completion and consequences if they are not. A chore checklist or chart may be helpful, especially for younger children. Older children may enjoy a chore app such as RoosterMoney, Chore Pad, or Chore Monkey.
Bonus idea! I would include a school prep chore where your child gets everything ready the night before for school. This could include putting shoes and book bag in a designated place, packing any needed items like gym shoes or sports equipment in their bag, preparing cold lunch, or filling a water bottle and placing it in the refrigerator. Younger children may need assistance with these tasks, but they might enjoy being part of the getting ready process.
#6: Set school year goals
It’s never too early to learn how to set goals and break them down to achieve them. Elementary school children might not understand what goals are and think they pertain to a sport like soccer, so this is a great opportunity to explain goal-setting Plus they do actually relate to athletics, since we want to score!
Brainstorm 3-5 goals that your child would like to achieve this year, such as improving math facts or learning to write better. You can then help them break these down into smaller pieces like practicing multiplication tables for 10 minutes each day. An important part of goal setting for any age is to celebrate the small victories along the way, so be strategic with how to measure progress and when to celebrate. One idea would be to have a jar where they put a marble or rock in every time they perform a task towards their goal. Once the jar has reached a certain level, they get to do something fun like go for ice cream or choose a movie for the night.
#5: Select a positive mindset morning mantra
Mindset is everything! A positive mantra, quote, or affirmation is the perfect way to start out the day. In our house, my husband uses two of them for our kids; they are:
-“Growth and comfort rarely go together.”
-Adam asks, “What’s the difference between a good day and a bad day?” Ethan or Liam respond with, “My attitude.”
Feel free to borrow these. One word of caution, Liam needed it explained that growth is his brain growing, not his body, when he was in a new learning (uncomfortable) situation; younger children are very literal, so your quote might need to be altered or the meaning explained for them to fully benefit.
#4: Plan out your monthly and weekly commitments
Having commitments mapped out for the week and month helps my stress level stay low. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. You can use a phone app such as Cozi or your phone might have a built-in calendar app; most of these are shareable to other devices so you can sync with your partner or children. I color code mine, giving each family member their own color, as well as events that are family events or just for my husband and me. I also have a paper weekly schedule that I fill out at on Sunday for the upcoming week, including my weekly meal plan. This helps me review the week, make sure there aren’t any holes, get everyone on the same page, and adjust the plan as needed.
Bonus idea! Kids are involved in so many things these days]. Although much of it is fun, downtime is also important. Like everything else, downtime may not happen if it isn’t scheduled. So, schedule in a night off to do something low-key as a family!
#3: Establish a morning routine
This is pretty self-explanatory. Plan with your child/children what their morning will look like. Work backwards; start with what time they will leave, then factor in the approximate time needed for each of the tasks they will have to do such as get ready, make/eat breakfast, brush teeth, get on outer wear, along with transit time to school. Creating a visual schedule may be helpful, especially with younger children.
In our house, our younger son, Liam, takes his time. He has a set time that he is done with breakfast and needs to move on to teeth-brushing and getting out the door. He knows the consequence of not finishing breakfast is that he might be hungry if he takes too long to eat, but this is a choice he can make. Everyone, even children, likes to feel in control of their situation. This gives Liam freedom to choose and removes my stress of nagging him to keep moving while keeping our morning on track.
Bonus idea! Timers! It’s easy to lose track of time, right? Setting a timer on your phone or other device is a great backup plan to end the out-the-door rush.
#2: Practice your morning routine before the first day of school
All this talking and planning is great, but you do not know how it’s going to go until you actually do it. Even the best-laid plans can fall apart when put into action! And the first day of school comes with some extras like those adorable first-day pictures, finding classrooms, last-minute jitters, and so on. Practicing your routine at least one day, if not more, before the “big” show on the first day of school is a fantastic idea. That way, you can adjust anything that didn’t work. We also try to restart the bedtime routine, including the earlier school year bed time, a few days earlier, if possible. Of course, if your kids are like mine, they rarely sleep in during the summer, but it is a guarantee they will sleep in the first day of school!
#1: Start Practicing Gratitude and Reflection
Mindset and attitude are everything; it’s never too early for children, or too late for adults, to start practicing gratitude and reflection. The transition from summer to the school year is a natural period to start this. Often in transition periods emotions are high--disappointment or sadness that summer is coming to an end, anxiety for the upcoming school year, dread in getting back to the grind. These are the children’s (and maybe even the teachers’) feelings; parents are inwardly rejoicing that school and the structure it forces on your mutinous army is returning!
This is a great way to practice flipping our mindset to the positive. Reflect on all the fun that was had during the summer. You could write a list of all the adventures and fun you had this summer and how grateful you are for them. Renowned academic centers such as Harvard and Berkley have demonstrated that practicing gratitude is beneficial to your health in many ways, one being making you happier. So, practicing gratitude intentionally during the back-to-school transition when you might be feeling negative should allow you to instead feel positive.
After reflecting on all the good times you had during the summer, circle back to Tip #10 and pick a few more summer adventures to complete before the first day of school and schedule them. Next, start a discussion about everything you are excited about for the school year, like seeing friends, learning new things, or a favorite fall sport starting. Children may be anxious about starting the school year, especially if they are starting at a new school. Discuss these worries with your child and actively work together to flip them from a negative to a positive. For example, if they are worried that they won’t know where to go, acknowledge the worry then discuss that it will be everyone’s first day, too, and that it will be exciting to figure it out with their friends.
Bonus ideas! A first-day-of-school tradition can be something that children look forward to and will help with going back-to-school. This can be as simple as going out for ice cream or a special dinner. Another way to ease the back-to-school letdown is to plan a fall adventure like going apple picking or to a pumpkin patch. This gives children, and you, a fall adventure to look forward to!
The bottom line is that having a plan of action ahead of time will take the stress out of the transition from summer fun and chaos to back-to-school structure. Keep it fun! Fun is the key to having a task be a “get to” instead of a “have-to”!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.